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Postcards from Salt Lake
Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006


Sparking a scandal

By BEVERLEY SMITH
Monday, February 18, 2002


Breaking the story on the biggest scandal of the Olympics - the vote-swapping, pre-determined judging of the pairs event - gave me the wildest, most fascinating ride of my life. I'd been writing about this issue for years, and nobody was paying attention. I felt like I was a voice in the wilderness.

Readers would send me emails and tell me I was off my rocker, that I was being negative for the sake of being negative. Nobody wanted to believe it.

Last week I was astonished to get an email berating me for my “passive acceptance” of the problems by not choosing to list Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz on the medal podium in my pre-Olympic picks. Me, of all people, passive?

Behind the scenes, coaches, judges and other skating afficionados came to me and said: “Thank you so much for doing this. It means so much to us.” So many of them are weary of the silliness, so afraid of a backlash if they say anything themselves.

It hasn't been an easy task. Before the Olympics, I believe that the International Skating Union wanted to strip me of my figure skating accreditation. During the past year, skating officials have tried to restrict my access at the following events: the world figure skating championships in Vancouver, the Grand Prix Final in Kitchener, Ont., and the Canadian figure skating championships in Hamilton, Ont., three of four competitions I've covered in the past year. I've been singled out.

The Olympics magnifies every issue 100-fold. When the pairs scandal hit, I was inundated with emails, and TV and radio requests to do interviews. By Tuesday, the secretary in the sports department at The Globe and Mail took, I am told, at least 100 calls from media people wanting to talk to me. The calls kept coming from everywhere. It was completely overwhelming. During a week when I already had little time to sleep or to eat, one TV outlet called me in my hotel room at 6:23 a.m. and woke me up.

One part of me desperately wanted to honour all the requests and tell my story far and wide. Another part of me found it very, very difficult to focus on my job at hand. I felt pulled in a million directions. I couldn't walk into the main press centre without someone wanting to talk to me or interview me. I'd be sitting quietly in a news conference, and find a television camera on me. One media person emailed me and told me I had become part of the story, but I have always worked under the philosophy that I am never more important than the story. I have always found it uncomfortable to use the word “I.”

On one totally exasperating day last week, I found myself having to chase a couple of skaters to the practice rink, the Steiner Arena. There is no shuttle service to the Steiner Arena. You must take the rail transit to the end of the line and walk 17 minutes to the rink. I had not eaten. I was exhausted. When I arrived, there was not a scrap of food to be found in the building. The skaters never showed up. Only three reporters did.

One of them was Barbara Underhill, a world champion pair skater who is working here for CBC. She had an equally harrowing day. The peace and quiet of Steiner Arena was like an oasis in a desert. Suddenly, Underhill reached over and gave me an oval-shaped coin with an angel etched on it.

“Keep it in your pocket,” she said. “I do. It has always helped me.”

So now I walk the Olympics with an angel in my pocket. It will find a place there forever more.

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17
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